Education Sector in Pakistan: PBS Interview with Mosharraf Zaidi
Extended Interview: Mosharraf Zaidi
PBS, February 2010
Mosharraf Zaidi is an American-educated Pakistani analyst and policy development adviser. He has worked as both a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor on education and as an adviser to the British government’s development arm. A strong supporter of Pakistan educational reform, Zaidi has become a widely followed columnist and contributing writer for newspapers in Pakistan, the United States, and the Middle East. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted in Islamabad in November 2009.
David Montero: I’m going to read you some statistics. India has an 83 per cent net enrollment rate for primary school. Sri Lanka has 90 percent. Nepal has 70 percent. Pakistan, 52 percent. Why is that?
Mosharraf Zaidi: Education is not a priority for the Pakistani state. The Pakistani elite benefit from the sustained illiteracy of the Pakistani people.
Benefit in what sense?
There is a peculiar worldview that’s prevalent, particularly among Pakistan’s feudal class, that an illiterate, unlettered electorate is an electorate that will sustain the dividends they seek.
So there has been an intentional policy enacted over years to prevent the education system from being fixed?
Intentional insofar as there is the absence of a functional education system today in a country that has exploded a nuclear weapon, gone toe-to-toe with world powers, and derived tremendous benefits from its military relationships with countries like China and the United States. Based on all of these other things, the Pakistani elite surely could have fixed education if they’d wanted to.
Pakistan spends roughly $4.5 billion a year on its military but less than $400 million on education. What does that tell you?
The biggest expenditure that Pakistan incurs every year is actually not the military; it’s debt servicing. The military is the second-largest component of the budget, and the government administration is the third largest. Education, health care, clean water, social protection, police services -- all the things that make life livable in a country like the United States -- are the things that are seemingly the least of Pakistan’s priorities.
The real question in Pakistan is whether it is going to start spending its money in different ways. Debt servicing, military expenditure, and a huge bureaucracy and government structure are three of the poorest choices that Pakistan makes at the expense of young children, at the expense of young girls and women, at the expense of disabled kids.
What’s the longer-term cost of those choices?
Today, there are roughly 70 million children between the ages of five and 19 in this country. Fewer than 30 million of those kids are in any type of school -- public, private, or other. If Pakistan is going to be a functional country in the future, it needs people that are able to participate in the global economy. You have to be part of the production process of either goods or services that somebody somewhere wants to consume. Increasingly, you will need some level of education to do that.
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